Postcards from Scotland

edinburgh

Earlier this year, I visited Scotland right after a trip to Berlin. I’m always nervous visiting a place that’s been touted as breathtaking because… what if it doesn’t deliver? After devouring haggis (more please!), interacting with the architecture of Edinburgh, and being humbled by the absolute beauty of the Highlands, I can safely say that this land lives up to the hype. Here are the postcards I meant to send.

edinburgh 2

My first impression of Edinburgh

I noticed a beautiful convergence of ancient and modern architecture as soon as I arrived. There was an Escher-like double level portion of the city and stunning vistas that looked infinite, yet seemed to lay within arm’s reach of the city’s buildings.

As usual, I preferred wandering through the city with few preconceptions instead of following a mapped-out itinerary. My biggest goal for the trip was to finally taste their infamous national dish: haggis. The rest, I trusted, would flow naturally.

haggis

My first plate of haggis

Sheep’s intestines! That’s all I ever heard, generally with a note of disgust, about this notorious Scottish dish. The thought made me think it’d be a squeaky, chewy plastic-like sausage full of mush. Well, it is a sausage of sorts, but I was wrong on all the other counts. I sat down in a proper pub and asked for their traditional haggis plate proudly, as if they would pat me on the head for being a good tourist.

“D’ya want neeps an’ tatties wi’ tha’, miss?” the bright-eyed waitress asked. Yes, I nodded. Yes to all of it, I wanted to taste Scotland! I didn’t even ask what neeps and tatties were. They sounded like provocative parts of the sheep, honestly, but I was there for the full experience.

Soon enough, my platter of food came out, steaming and fragrant. It was delicious! Haggis is sausage with the casing removed after cooking, so there were no actual intestines to chew through. It was spiced lamb (yes, the offal, get over it people) mixed with oatmeal, yielding an incredibly satisfying texture, sort of like al dente pasta with earthy ground meat that I could roll around on my tongue.

You can’t get the real thing in the States, so get it if you go to Scotland. It’s absolutely worth it!

st giles cathedral

Visiting St. Giles’ Cathedral

From afar, I spied the open cupola of St. Giles’ Cathedral and loved it. It was light and airy and so intricately carved that it resembled garlands of flowers that had suddenly turned to stone. It became my true North for the entirety of my stay: I sought out a glimpse of it wherever I was in the city.

One day, when my friend and I finally ventured into the cathedral, the atmospheric sounds of a choir surrounded us. The singers’ voices were so pure and open that the air around me felt lighter, as if I might start floating without its weight to hold me down.

Bright clear sunlight poured in through stained glass windows, spilling vibrant colors everywhere, as if I’d entered a painting at the moment of its creation. Enveloped in this aural and visual enchantment, I wandered into all the tiny alcoves along the perimeter and drank in the carved wood walls and ceilings of the Thistle Chapel within.

scott monument

Climbing the Black Tower

Large, forboding, and ominously black against the bright blue sky, the Scott Monument (but forever known as the Black Tower in my mind) looked like the skeletal remains of some ancient architectural dinosaur. I climbed up steps that curved around and around inside the narrow tower, gasping at the view (and at the steep climb) before realizing there were three more levels to ascend.

Each section was increasingly claustrophobic in the rapidly narrowing staircase and each viewing balcony progressively smaller. The result, at the top, where there was barely room to scrape one’s body between the curved stone wall of the tower and the railing, was a bottleneck of tourists trapped at the top with no way to descend while people kept filing up those tiny, steep steps.

The (literally) breathtaking view of Edinburgh was worth it though, and in the end, my New Yorker attitude saved the day. I yelled down the tiny stone staircase that everyone had to start backing down to a lower level to allow us our escape, and luckily, they complied.

highlands

Exploring the Highlands

Speaking of escapes, my friends and I decided to drive up into the Highlands for a day to dazzle our city dweller minds with natural wonders. We sampled roadside beef patties, squealed at baby lambs (all tiny balls of white wool teetering on impossibly thin black legs along bright green fields with constantly surprised expressions on their little faces), and gasped as our car climbed higher and higher on the road around a mountain range, each turn revealing new unimaginable vistas.

There is no way to capture the vast beauty of the Highlands. There was just the humbling realization that we would be an invisible speck, possibly mistaken for the shadow of the leaf of a tree, to anyone gazing down on this land from up high.

It was so large that my mind could not contain it, and when I accepted this fact and stopped straining to remember it all, the wide blue of the sky and the infinite shades of green and rust red of the earth filled my skull, projected upon the interior like the most wondrous film.

A Summery Day in the Skies of NYC

view from les roof

Here in New York City, no matter how relentlessly hot, devoid of green space, or loud traffic is, sidewalk tables and rooftop decks are sacred. Every year, I sit with friends, sweat rolling down ticklish spots of the body and ice cubes disintegrating into drinks, swearing I’m having the best time of my life. And I mean it with all my heart.

It’s a particular brand of madness we cultivate in this city, and it’s begun again (cicadas be damned). As if a switch were flipped, almost everyone I knew was either hosting or attending a rooftop party this past weekend. Honestly, the only person I knew who didn’t go to one was busy learning how to steer a brand new sailboat (she’s a very fancy friend).

I managed to finagle my way onto three rooftops around Manhattan on Saturday, and I won’t lie: it was one of my proudest accomplishments as a New Yorker.

pool

The day began with prosecco and music poolside atop a luxury building on the lower east side. The deck was, umm, decked out with large round loungers and cushioned armchairs, and everyone looked like a successful actor or model. In the visible distance, we spied the golden roof of the Met Life, the Empire State, and the Chrysler buildings. My friends and I sunned ourselves silly for a few hours, taking turns napping or dipping into the pool to cool off. When we got hungry, sushi was delivered directly to our beach towels, as was a large patio umbrella to ensure we dined in comfort.

In the late afternoon, I reluctantly gathered my things to leave this lap of luxury in the sky, meet up with another friend, and move on to rooftop party #2 (I know, it’s a hard life). It was a quick commute up to Chelsea (although I’d gotten so spoiled at this point that I wondered why no one was fanning me as I traveled).

chelsea view

Once there, we pushed open the door to find a more typical urban rooftop, flat, covered in blacktop and framed with a concrete ledge and railing. The view was quintessentially New York: leafy green treetops filtering golden sunlight in a way that made it sparkle, pre-war buildings with intricate stonework facades, and streets filled with yellow taxicabs and blissfully sweltering pedestrians (they would be complaining by August but for now, they welcomed the heat).

In one corner, the host had set up an oasis of large umbrellas, a sisal rug, a full living room set of chairs and coffee tables, and a buffet of food, wine, and gin punch. We generously helped him finish all of it before traipsing (somewhat unsteadily) onward to rooftop party #3 in Chinatown.

chinatown view

The sun had set on our way to the last party, and the air was more gently warm. We clambered up six or seven flights of stairs to a blacktop roof in the dark, this time with no railing (but outlined in colorful Christmas lights).

It was a luau theme, as evidenced by tiki torches tied to curved metal pipes and an inflatable palm tree that cradled icy cans of beer and a bucket of tropical pink punch. Logic dictated that I drink water at this point, but I decided more alcohol and climbing up on a railing-less ledge to get a picture against the lit-up skyline was a better idea. Hey, it was a day of living large, what can I say!

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Some experiences can make you stop and pay attention to things that are usually just in the background of your life. I live in a city where we’ve stacked ourselves in little cubes reaching high into the sky, in order to all fit onto a concrete island floating between different lands. And yet, when summer emerged, we found our ways up and out into open air to greet the sun eagerly.

Spending the day above New York, yet thoroughly immersed in its limitless energy, made my heart swell with love for this great city. At last, summer is here!

The Real Failure of GoogaMooga

The cancellation of Sunday’s GoogaMooga festival sucked. Not just for my personal, selfish reasons like not wanting to stand in line for an hour in the rain BEFORE news of the cancellation traveled grapevine-style down the line. That was unprofessional and thoughtless and the work of people who clearly do NOT want any business in the future. But hey, I’ll live. (And if I die of pneumonia from my hour standing still in the chilly rain, somebody hit the organizers and make them stare at good food without offering them any. Yeah.)

googa 1

You know who may not live? The small businesses that had stands at the festival. To prepare for this shit-show-ganza, the hard-working, talented people behind those businesses had to hire extra staff, buy and prep a ton of food, transport it all to the middle of a field, and set up in advance of the crowds. I know because I saw this from behind a chain link fence that separated me from Handing My Money To Them to buy that delicious food. I know because while the chain link fence prevented my body from getting through to them, the tantalizing aromas of what they were cooking could still waft through and sway me into thinking that I’d wait just a little bit longer.

All of that preparation costs money. Major major money that should be going toward rent for their restaurants, gas and parking for their food trucks, and possibly a couple drinks for their hard work GODDAMIT!!

googa 2

Yes, to some degree, this is my hunger rage speaking. After all, I am a spoiled Brooklyn foodie who was attending this event after working out extra hard so I could eat more. #firstworldproblems to the max. I get it. But I’m SO damn angry on behalf of those small businesses because this goddamn fuckface of a festival was supposed to be a good thing for them. Expose them to new customers and help them turn a profit. It’s hard enough to do that under normal circumstances, especially in this economy, and Googa is going to make it even harder??

One of the organizers, Superfly co-founder Jonathan Mayers, is quoted on Gothamist saying, “Um, well, our intentions are to have a celebration, to hold something in an iconic park to promote all the amazing local businesses. So coming from that place, I feel really good about the work we do. We tried very hard to make people happy, but not everyone is going to be happy.”

Excuse me, Mr. Co-Fuckface, but I’d like to hear more about what you’re doing to make sure that you haven’t put those “amazing local businesses” OUT of business through your team’s inability to plan ahead or even communicate well when it became clear that a cancellation would occur.

The whole success of GoogaMooga (if the word success can be used) was based on the draw of these local vendors. Now they’re the ones getting screwed over. I can handle an hour out of my day (although not without screaming “fuuuuuck yooooou” into the rain a few times). These people can not handle losing tens of thousands of dollars.

Please, if you want to support local business, and make sure that amazing talented chefs and restauranteurs won’t disappear from our amazing city, go eat at their restaurants. While the Greatly Disappointing Googa shared their list of food vendors to be “helpful”, I went ahead and made a Google map with their actual locations. Because I fucking care. And because, honestly, when it’s not MY issue but I want to help… I need someone to make it as easy for me as possible. So here, it’s easy, just look up whichever awesome restaurant is closest to you and GO EAT. And if there’s a crazy-looking asian chick sputtering F-bombs in between every savory bite, come say hi. It’s probably me.

A Very VIP Night

On an ordinary Thursday evening in mid-April, a curated group of cocktail connoisseurs were invited to the mysteriously named Infused Night, with even more mysterious promises of fun and games throughout the city.

cayrum manhattans

Photo by Jenny Adams (www.jennyadamsfreelance.com).

Hosted by Cayrum, a blend of golden Dominican rum, fresh ginger root, and natural honey that recently launched in New York City, our night began at Haven, an airy rooftop bar in Times Square. Guests were served a modernized Manhattan and the pleasantly Spicy Kiki, made with muddled cilantro and serrano peppers. Both drinks highlighted the smooth sweetness and ginger spice of Cayrum in different ways.

After an hour of cocktails and gazing at the impressive view, we were whisked away in black SUVs to our surprise second location. We arrived at Keats to find karaoke, trays of Cayrum shots (mm, smooth!), and a ginger ale concoction that played off the spiced ginger notes wonderfully. Although shy at first, our group took over the karaoke stage to deliver rousing renditions of Britney Spears classics until the black SUVs showed up again.

group

Photo by Jenny Adams (www.jennyadamsfreelance.com).

The third surprise stop was Hog Pit in Chelsea, with a long wide table laden with fried pickles, succulent wings, savory sliders, deviled eggs, and fried frog legs. Our appetites thoughtfully satiated, trays arrived with more shots of Cayrum, and an announcement that we were entered into a darts tournament. Sharp flying objects and copious amounts of alcohol seemed ill-advised, but the fried frog legs had imbued us all with a sense of adventurousness. Or perhaps the free-flowing golden drams of infused rum did that, it’s hard to say.

After an intense no-holds-barred battle, during which three surprise bullseyes were scored (did this rum have magical properties?), we gathered for a picture to commemorate the moment. And then it was off into the SUVs again, and onward to our final destination.

Arriving at Stash, we were ushered in past the waiting line and into an underground cavern that resembled an ornately decorated subway tunnel. Rich red and gold tiles lined the curved ceiling, which was bathed in a warm glow. Our banquette awaited, with yet another table full of drinks, ice, and mixers, but nobody sat down. The music inspired us to dance away the rest of our Infused Night.

cayrum

Photo by Jenny Adams (www.jennyadamsfreelance.com).

Future events are being planned, and Cayrum selects their Facebook fans as guests. So like them and give it a try in the meantime. The awesome night they planned definitely sweetened me up to their cause, but honestly, it’s a great drink made the right way (aged for years in bourbon oak barrels and with real honey and ginger instead of powders). Delicious in straight up shots, on the rocks, or mixed into a cocktail, it’s an easy way to ease into the warm weather we’re finally having.